Muisca cuisine

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The Muisca cuisine describes the food and preparation the Muisca elaborated. The Muisca were an advanced civilization inhabiting the central highlands of the Colombian Andes (Altiplano Cundiboyacense) before the Spanish conquest of the Muisca in the 1530s. Their diet and cuisine consisted of many endemic flora and fauna of Colombia. Main product of the Muisca was maize, in various forms. The advantage of maize was that it could be grown in the various climatic zones the Muisca territories experienced.[1] It was the basis for their diet and the alcoholic drink, chicha, made from fermented maize and sugar. In the Muisca religion their agriculture and celebration of harvests, conducted along the complex Muisca calendar, were protected by Chaquén and Nencatacoa. The Muisca ate a variety of roots and tubers and even had a specific word in their Chibcha language for eating those: bgysqua.[2]

Muisca cuisine

Chicha; alcoholic beverage made from maize and sugar
Aba; maize, the main product for the Muisca

The Muisca cultivated many different crops in their own regions, part of the Muisca Confederation, and obtained more exotic culinary treats through trade with neighbouring indigenous peoples, with as most important; the Lache (cotton, tobacco, tropical fruits, sea snails), Muzo (emeralds, Magdalena River fish, access to gold, spices), Achagua (coca, feathers, yopó, Llanos Basin fish, curare). The climatic variation of the Muisca territories allowed for the agriculture of different crops. Javier Ocampo López describes the Muisca diet as predominantly vegetarian: potatoes, maize, beans, mandioca, tomatoes, calabazas, peppers and numerous fruits. The Muisca also used grains known today as quinoa. Main base for the Muisca cuisine was maize, considered a holy crop. The Muisca roasted corn (maize), ate it off the plant or converted it into popcorn. Main meat was the guinea pig, endemic to South America, which they farmed in their homes. In special cases they ate llamas, alpacas, deer, capybara (chigüiro in Spanish), and fish from the rivers and lakes of the Altiplano Cundiboyacense and Magdalena and Llanos through trade. The Muisca drank a lot of chicha, a fermented alcoholic drink of maize and sugar, served in ceramic pots called urdu or aryballus.[3]

Paleodietary studies performed on the Bogotá savanna, where 18 Muisca skeletons ranging in historical age from 8th to 10th century AD and 26 skeletons from the 12th and 13th century AD, together with analysis of 10 mummies of the Guane, Lache and Muisca were analysed, have shown that about 60% of the food of the people consisted of vegetary products and 40% of meat and especially fish.

After the Spanish conquest, the access to meat was drastically reduced changing the diet of the Muisca and other indigenous groups of central Colombia. Studies from Tunja, called Hunza in the time of the Muisca, have shown the people did not suffer from malnutrition though.[4]

Words for maize

Fica; maize leaf
Agua; maize kernels
Chiscami; black maize

As maize was the most important crop and food for the Muisca, their language (Muysccubun) had many different words for maize, parts of the plant and the different processes and eating habits.[5]

Note: for the pronunciation, it helps to think Spanish; "j" refers to hard English "h"-sound, not the soft English "j/y"

Muysccubun English
aba maize
abqui corncob
abzie maize hairs
fica maize leaf
agua maize kernels
amne maize stem
abtiba yellow maize
chiscami black maize
fuquiepquijiza white maize
fusuamuy half-coloured maize
jachua hard maize
jichuami rice maize
pochuba soft coloured maize
sasami coloured maize
amtaquin dry maize stem
amne chijuchua green maize stem
absum maize seed
abitago maize surplus
abquy grainless maize
bcahachysuca removing maize grains
lie bun maize roll
chochoca seasoned maize


Sweet potatoes
Rocoto or Capsicum pubescens

The Muisca cultivated their crops in so-called camellones, artificially elevated surfaces that allowed the roots of the crops to be sufficiently irrigated with the -on average 700-1000 mm of- rain in a year and drainage systems regulating the water levels.[6]

Main plants to be cultivated were:

Grains and cereals


Lulo, national fruit of Colombia
Coca leaves



White-tailed deer
Mountain paca
Purple gallinule
Eremophilus mutisii



As Colombia has the biggest biodiversity of birds in the world, they formed part of their cuisine, mainly:[40]



Food processing and preparation

Using the abundant coal of the Muisca territories, they heated their ovens and cooked their food.[43]

Eating habits

The Muisca sat down on the ground while eating and they didn't use cutlery, yet ate with their hands. The food was served on leaves or in their ceramic pots.[43]

See also


  1. ^ Restrepo, 2009, p.29
  2. ^ García, 2012, p.65
  3. ^ Ocampo López, 2007, Ch.V, p.177
  4. ^ a b Martínez & Manrique, 2014, p.100
  5. ^ Daza, 2013, pp.27-28
  6. ^ García, 2012, p.43
  7. ^ García, 2012, p.44
  8. ^ García, 2012, p.50
  9. ^ García, 2012, p.52
  10. ^ García, 2012, p.55
  11. ^ García, 2012, p.56
  12. ^ a b García, 2012, p.59
  13. ^ García, 2012, p.61
  14. ^ García, 2012, p.63
  15. ^ García, 2012, p.66
  16. ^ García, 2012, p.73
  17. ^ García, 2012, p.76
  18. ^ a b García, 2012, p.80
  19. ^ García, 2012, p.82
  20. ^ García, 2012, p.84
  21. ^ García, 2012, p.87
  22. ^ Rodríguez Cuenca, 2006, p.115
  23. ^ García, 2012, p.90
  24. ^ García, 2012, p.91
  25. ^ García, 2012, p.93
  26. ^ García, 2012, p.94
  27. ^ García, 2012, p.98
  28. ^ García, 2012, p.100
  29. ^ García, 2012, p.103
  30. ^ García, 2012, p.105
  31. ^ García, 2012, p.106
  32. ^ García, 2012, p.109
  33. ^ García, 2012, p.110
  34. ^ García, 2012, p.112
  35. ^ García, 2012, p.115
  36. ^ García, 2012, p.116
  37. ^ García, 2012, p.122
  38. ^ García, 2012, p.127
  39. ^ Cardale, 1985, p.105
  40. ^ García, 2012, p.132
  41. ^ García, 2012, p.133
  42. ^ a b c d e Restrepo, 2009, p.41
  43. ^ a b Restrepo, 2009, p.43


  • Cardale de Schrimpff, Marianne. 1985. En busca de los primeros agricultores del Altiplano Cundiboyacense - Searching for the first farmers of the Altiplano Cundiboyacense, 99–125. Banco de la República. Accessed 2016-07-08.
  • Daza, Blanca Ysabel. 2013. Historia del proceso de mestizaje alimentario entre Colombia y España - History of the integration process of foods between Colombia and Spain (PhD), 1-494. Universitat de Barcelona.
  • García, Jorge Luis. 2012. The Foods and crops of the Muisca: a dietary reconstruction of the intermediate chiefdoms of Bogotá (Bacatá) and Tunja (Hunza), Colombia (M.A.), 1–201. University of Central Florida. Accessed 2016-07-08.
  • Martínez Martín, A. F., and E. J. Manrique Corredor. 2014. Alimentación prehispánica y transformaciones tras la conquista europea del altiplano cundiboyacense, Colombia. Revista Virtual Universidad Católica del Norte 41. 96–111. Accessed 2016-07-08.
  • Ocampo López, Javier. 2007. Grandes culturas indígenas de América - Great indigenous cultures of the Americas, 1–238. Plaza & Janes Editores Colombia S.A..
  • Restrepo Manrique, Cecilia. 2009. La alimentación en la vida cotidiana del Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario: 1653-1773 & 1776-1900 - The food in the daily life of the Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario: 1653-1773 & 1776-1900, 1–352. Ministerio de la Cultura. Accessed 2016-07-08.
  • Rodríguez Cuenca, José Vicente. 2006. Las enfermedades en las condiciones de vida prehispánica de Colombia - La alimentación prehispánica - The diseases in the prehispanic living conditions of Colombia - the prehispanic food, 83–128. Accessed 2016-07-08.
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